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Nearly 300,000 U.S. service members and veterans are suing 3M over a tiny piece of military gear they say didn’t work

Joseph Sigmon was sitting in his high school French class in 2001 when he watched on TV as a hijacked plane slammed into New York’s World Trade Center. His immediate thought, Sigmon told NBC News, was to join the military. “I just knew I needed to do my part,” Sigmon recalled.

For Sigmon, that meant completing two tours of duty in the U.S. Army as a field artillery specialist in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was decorated for his work training Afghan soldiers how to operate artillery, and upon discharge, Sigmon held the rank of staff sergeant, a U.S. Army spokesman confirmed.

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While Sigmon did his part, the company that supplied the Army with earplugs to protect his hearing did not, he says. That company is 3M, the St. Paul, Minnesota-based technology and manufacturing giant that supplied a version of Combat Arms earplugs to the U.S. military from 2008 to 2015. Sigmon, 37, has been diagnosed with tinnitus, a persistent ringing in his ears; he is one of about 290,000 U.S. military active-duty service members and veterans suing 3M over hearing problems they contend resulted from use of the company’s earplugs.

“When I got back, when it was quiet, I noticed a low tone ringing in my ears all the time,” said Sigmon, who lives in Newton, North Carolina, with his wife and two young girls. “At the end of the day, your ears are still ringing, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re aggravated because you can’t get it to quit.”

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